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Kohl, Helmut

Kohl, Helmut (Helmut Josef Michael Kohl) hĕl´mo͝ot˝ yō´zĕf˝ mĭkh´äĕl kōl [key], 1930–2017, German statesman, chancellor of West Germany (1982–1990) and reunified Germany (1990–98). A member of Christian Democratic Union (CDU), he was elected to the Rhineland-Palatinate parliament in 1959, became state CDU chairman in 1966, and served as state premier (1969–76). In 1973 he became chairman of the national CDU, leading the opposition in the West German Bundestag, where he engineered a no-confidence vote against Social Democrat Helmut Schmidt (1982) and the desertion of the Free Democrats from the governing coalition; the party then joined the CDU in coalition and Kohl became chancellor.

Conservative and pro-American, he led the CDU to convincing victories in 1983 and 1987. During his administration, West Germany prospered and became increasingly influential in world affairs. Harnessing momentum for reunification starting in 1989, when East Germany began to disintegrate, Kohl successfully campaigned for the CDU there (Mar., 1990), winning a mandate for speedy reunification, and subsequently secured the agreement of Soviet president Gorbachev . Having accomplished reunification under the West German constitution in October, he led the CDU to victory in nationwide elections (Dec., 1990) and became the first chancellor of reunified Germany. Kohl also worked with French president Mitterrand to strengthen the European Community and transform it into the European Union , laying the groundwork for European monetary union. He continued as chancellor and CDU chairman until 1998, when the CDU was defeated at the polls by the Social Democrats led by Gerhard Schröder .

In 1999, Kohl became embroiled in a serious scandal as the existence of more than $1 million in secret campaign contributions to him and other financial irregularities during his administration came to light. Refusing to disclose the source of funds paid to him and with his reputation in shambles, Kohl was forced to resign (2000) as honorary chairman of the CDU. In 2001 he agreed to pay a 300,000-mark fine in exchange for an end to the criminal investigation into his role in the campaign contributions scandal. He retired from the Bundestag in 2002.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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